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Innovation, the next generation

Jul 9, 2018 / Technology

Innovation is a priority for most financial services companies and, more than ever before, innovation needs to be broadly defined. The reason is simple: Innovation isn’t limited to technology advancements or just fintech. Innovation is so much more than that and is driving major change in this industry.

An excellent piece in the Harvard Business Review by Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor sums this up well. In “Stop me before I ‘innovate’ again!” Taylor, who has been one of BAI’s most popular speakers, cites a 2013 Wall Street Journal piece that recounted a Hewlett-Packard conference call. As they discussed plans to cut costs and streamline, executives “used the word ‘innovation’ 70 times! If there were a Lifetime Achievement Award for Buzzword Bingo, HP would have retired the cup.”

Innovation does not deserve tired buzzword status—but innovators deserve buzz. That’s why I value my ongoing role as a member of the BAI Global Innovation Awards Judging Panel for the Americas. We’re now in our eighth year and I continue to be so impressed by how dedicated companies, leaders and visionaries apply innovation mindsets and actions to some of the industry’s most challenging issues and opportunities. (You can see our 2018 Finalists by clicking here.)

Speaking of challenge, it requires some tough decision-making to select just a small number of companies doing really incredible things from hundreds of nominations. The winners and finalists share one exceptional trait: They recognize that for innovation to stick and drive change, it needs to be about the customer. The most important measure of any kind of innovation, is how it positively impacts the customer.

It is very clear that innovation in financial services is expanding beyond technology—far beyond the latest device or new app. Innovation flows from the heart of how banks are led, employees recruited and retained, and processes reengineered for efficiency. And the wide adoption of agile methodology makes it possible to iterate to incorporate customer feedback.

But of course, technology matters, especially as we have observed the impact of APIs. Across the board, using technology to innovate is getting easier, although many banks still face the constraints of multiple legacy systems.

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence has made it more feasible to introduce new breakthroughs on the front end (such as chatbots) and back end (through robotic process automation to streamline routine tasks). In the awards this year, we emphasized the inclusion and application of AI in a new product and service-focused category—and expect that as AI becomes more widely adopted, we’ll see even more inclusion of technology in future entries.

Overall, we witnessed an impressive array of forward thinking among the top contenders and many of the award applicants in responding to relevant, real problems. We could say it’s enough for the winners to bask in achievement fit for recognition on a worldwide stage. But this year the BAI Global Innovation Awards will take a deeper dive: We want people who attend our awards ceremony at BAI Beacon in October to know not only what the winners did but also how they did it.

To that end, we’re excited to have JP Nicols moderating our awards-related innovation content at BAI Beacon this year. As managing director of FinTech Forge and an advisor of startups and Fortune 500 companies alike, Nicols truly knows the hurdles banks face—culturally and strategically—to foster innovation. He will help people understand and apply insights gleaned from the BAI Global Innovation Award finalists and winners so that banks can propel their innovation agendas forward.

The judges did a great job of identifying innovators again this year.  We’re also excited to introduce the first People’s Choice Award, which will provide an opportunity for anyone in the industry to vote for their favorite innovations.

Especially in a regulated industry, innovation isn’t always easy to do and what works in one nation may not automatically translate to another. It’s easy to look on in dejection and think, “Great for them, but it won’t work for us.” So I point to the words of fellow BAI Global Innovation Awards judge Amy Radin, who sums it up beautifully:

“There’s a lot of opportunity to learn from other markets, to challenge your thinking and help you reframe. One of the best ways to find great ideas is to look outside your market. Maybe you can’t cut and paste it because the regulations or ways people handle money there are different. But you can certainly find fresh insights that you can use to create change.”

That’s the spirit we want the BAI Global Innovation Awards to embody: this year and for all the years to come. The insights and breakthroughs we will soon celebrate are not only for us to applaud. When the clapping dies down, we need to put our hands to the hard-yet-rewarding task of change: forward thinking, forward acting and forward serving.

Inspiration drives innovation. This year, the BAI Global Innovation Awards will transcend trophies to provide practical, applicable insight. Insight leads to more inspiration, more innovation and a glorious cycle where actions (and results) speak louder than words—and especially buzzwords.

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Debbie Bianucci is the President and CEO of BAI.